Pioneer Apple and Apricot Skillet Cake
How about something different from the traditional apple pie but just as scrumptious WITH a flair for the dramatic? What could be more thrilling than baking an historic Americana dessert in a big ole’ heavy skillet and then banging it out on the holiday tablescape to the amazement and delight of your friends and family? Yeah, I thought so. Maybe you’ll WILL want to try an upside-down apple pie this holiday season made with sweet biscuit cake, apples, apricots, molasses, honey and cinnamon AND just dribbling with juices. Did I mention it’s served warm to your guests with a hefty dollop of sweet whipped cream? Bring it on!
Kinda like pie but kinda like cake…
The Real Deal: Get out your grandma’s heavy black skillet and scrub ‘er down — cause we’re about to fire it up in a hot oven with this simple and historic apple dessert that will make your mouth water and charm your family and friends with its vintage appeal.
History Alert: Aside from ancient skillet cooking, Chaucer-era pies and all that, we’re talking mostly here about the homestead days in America before the oven and the cake pan came along for the ride. This skillet cake would be cooked over an open fire. Later, of course, it might even be lidded-up in a Dutch Oven with hot coals on top. Think: Campfire Peach Cobbler, Summertime, Yosemite. Then someone of brilliance figured out that flipping the whole dang thing upside down makes it pretty and layers the juices down all around the cake. In fact, it gets the Cool Vintage Cake Award.
Naming Traditions: The flipped fruit skillet cake goes by various names and a bazillion variations but can be called Pandowdy (or Pan Dowdy or even Pandoughdy) or even Puddin’ Pie (meaning bread pudding pie for this purpose) and it can be chocked full of any number of fruits from plums to peaches to quince to pears, you name it. You can also serve it un-flipped and mess with it different ways. In fact, we made 3 different versions of this vintage wonder before we landed on our favorite. (Check out the photos for an alternate unflipped version below.) We think we’ve got it down, starting with some simple pioneer recipes that have been tweaked a tad for this season’s simple-to-elegant vintage food party.
Set aside some time — but it’s not hard: We’re going to prep some fruit, pre-bake the fruit a bit, make some dough that will chill for an hour, roll it into one big circle to top the skillet and bake it all up. Easy peazy.
…And while you’re peeling apples, you simply must ratchet up the volume on your Pandora or listen to Ella Fitzgerald sing about Pan Dowdy in her 1946 song with Dinah Shore. Ha! Or check out this charming modern rndition of an old-fashion apple pandowdy song…
10″ heavy cast iron skillet (or other heavy baking dish)
Large bowl(s) (for fruit mixing and dough mixing)
2 Medium bowls (for whipping eggs and butter and mixing dry ingredients)
Knife (for cutting away dough edges)
Fork (for piercing the dough)
Wax paper (optional, for transferring the rolled dough to pan)
Aluminum foil (or other wrap for refrigerating the dough)
Measuring cups and spoons
Let’s head to Granny Vi’s house and get the counter locked-and-loaded with our ingredients…
Fruit Filling Ingredients:
4 cups, about 5 to 6 large tart green apples, sliced
4 to 6 apricots, sliced (really, for decoration and a hint of apricot taste)
1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 Tablespoon honey
1/3 cup hot water
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (for greasing the pan, see more butter used below)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (finely chopped, teeny tiny)
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for sprinkling)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
6 Tablespoons butter, room temperature*
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
*Butter tip: Butter should be room temperature but still hold its shape. Even slightly chilled is good. We are not looking for a melted bowl of butter.
Heat oven to 400, setting oven rack to center position.
Rub large round 10″ black iron skillet pan with:
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
The first step is a set-aside for use in the dough recipe below:
Zest 1 fresh medium lemon to produce:
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (loosely packed, finely chopped)
Slice in half and juice the lemon to produce:
2 t fresh lemon juice
Peel, core and slice (while listening to cool music):
4 c tart green apples, sliced (5 to 6 large tart green apples)
4 to 6 apricots, sliced
Place apple slices (without the apricots) in a large bowl and gently stir in:
Prepared fresh lemon juice
Arrange apple slices in the buttered pan, dotting with apricot slices.
In a small bowl, mix together:
1/2 c sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
Sprinkle sugar mixture over sliced fruit and set aside.
In small bowl, stir to mix:
1/4 c dark molasses
1 T honey
1/3 c hot water
Drizzle the hot molasses syrup over the sugared fruit.
Bake uncovered (with just fruit in skillet) at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and set aside while dough is being prepared.
Tip: Pan should be cooled down slightly before covering fruit with rolled dough.
In medium bowl, beat on high until pale (about 2 minutes):
6 T unsalted butter, room temperature or slightly chilled
Beat into butter on high for 1 minute:
2 large eggs
1/4 t salt
Mix in the prepared lemon zest until incorporated (see above directions for 1/2 t grated lemon zest , finely chopped and lightly packed)
In a medium bowl, whisk until fully incorporated:
2 c all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
2 T light brown sugar, tightly packed
2 T granulated sugar
Use a fork to fold into egg mixture and quickly stir to fully incorporate:
1/2 c milk
prepared flour mixture
Now flour up your fingers and knead the dough gently and quickly until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
Form the dough into a fat roll shape.
Tip: To keep dough light and fragile, very little kneading is needed.
Wrap the dough in aluminum foil (my favorite, but other wraps will do).
Refrigerate the wrapped dough for an hour so that it is not so sticky and dough gets a little “bonding time”.
Prepare a sheet of wax paper larger than the pan opening and sift flour over it.
Alternate method: Flour the counter-top. I floured the counter, rolled out the dough and transferred it to the pan then unrolled it, but I think it would be easier to roll out the dough on floured wax paper and just flip the dough onto the pan, your choice.
Tip: Most 10″ skillets are 11″ or wider at the top so make your dough circle as big as the opening of the pan. Use all the dough for your circle. Dough will be about 1/4″ thick.
Flip wax paper with the dough circle over the fruit-filled pan.
Alternative method: Roll up the dough and then unroll it over the skillet filled with fruit.
Place the dough fully on top of the fruit.
Cut away any extra dough pieces from the edges of the pan, making sure the dough edges sit directly on top of the fruit (not like a pie crust that rims the outer top edge of the pan).
Tip: Since we are seeking a vintage feel for the cake, perfection is not required for this step and patching of broken dough is fine – cause we’re going to flip it anyway.
Prick the dough with a fork every few inches.
Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes until lightly golden.
This is what the cake would look like if served in the skillet unturned.
Now we’re back in the kitchen with the skillet hot from the oven…
After the pan has cooled to the touch for at least 10 to 15 minutes, place the serving dish over the pan and carefully invert pan onto serving plate.
Tip: Serving plate should be at least 2 inches larger than pan diameter and slightly bowl-shaped to hold the juices. Although the skillet should be warm to release juices easily, it should not be so hot that you have to wear oven gloves when you flip the pan.
An amazing thing happens right before your eyes. The apples are easily released because of the fruit and juices at the bottom of the pan and they are beautifully molded to the shape of the pan — and they hold their positions until serving time. If your able to coordinate the time of this, you might even consider taking this step at the table with your guests as your audience.
Serve each slice warm, if possible, on small plate or in shallow bowls with a little of the sweet sauce drizzled over each serving and topped with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.
Sweetened Whipped Cream: (makes about 2 cups so double this if you want more)
In medium deep bowl, beat on high until fluffy but not stiff:
1 c heavy whipping cream
Add and beat on high until gently stiff peaks form:
2 T sugar
1 t vanilla extract, fine quality
Dollop a little whipped cream on each serving or pass the cut-glass bowl and let your guests add cream as desired. And if you’re like most folks in my family, you’ll be serving a fresh pot of coffee right along side it.
Variation on a Theme – Right-Side-Up Apple Pandowdy:
We made the same recipe in an old-fashioned baking tin and served it right-side-up (unflipped) and rolled the dough a little thinner. Check it out and see what you think.
We hauled an old baking tin out of mom’s storage cupboard to play with…
We arranged the apples in the bottom of the baking tin, just like before, and dotted it with apricot slices, sprinkled it with the sugar mixture, drizzled the hot molasses syrup and pre-baked the fruit…
The variation Apple Pandowdy is fresh from the oven…
We kicked it up a notch and served the variation cake on mom’s silver platter. Ooo la la!
Here’s a close up of the Right-Side-Up Variation Apple Pandowdy…
So, there you have it. Upside down or right side up, you’ll be bringing home a great dessert from your great-grandparents’ day for the pleasure of your guests. I so hope you consider giving it a whirl.
A very happy holiday season to you all and thank you ever so much for all your encouragement and kind words. I love hearing from you in the comments section or on our Facebook page. You guys are awesome!
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